4 min read
Pop psychology tells us to do this—believe in yourself, all you need is inside you, look within you. We are constantly being bombarded with images and stories that tell us if we believe in ourselves, we would get the promotion at the workplace, or become a better spouse, or do well at school, etc. In our age of social media, insta-influencers post pictures, videos and write inspirational blog posts on the power of believing in yourself. Pop psychology teaches us the ills we see in ourselves and in the world are because we don’t really believe in ourselves—that we have low self-esteem.
Now Peter one of Jesus’ first followers tried pop psychology and….
Here’s the story.
Jesus tells his crew, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night.” All of you. Jesus then quotes from the Old Testament writings to further prove his point. I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered. (Zechariah 13:7)
The Greek word for stumble is skandalion from skandalon, which we get our English word scandal. In Greek, it means to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall. (Thayer, 2019). In street language, we say, “Yoh bro, don’t trip or bro, you are trippin’.” In other words, don’t mess up or you are messing up.
But Peter replies, even if all trip (skandalion), yet I will not trip. Wow. Again Jesus repeats himself for clarity, assuredly I say to you today, even this night before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Peter replies but now more forcefully, “If I have to die with you, I will not deny you!” and the rest of the crew joined in and said, “Us too, Jesus.”
Peter did what pop psychology told him to do. He did. He believed in himself. He was confident in his own skin. He looked within and found the will to do what was right. And also, the other disciples followed suit. Belief in self is contagious. It motivates people. It draws a crowd. People low in self-esteem are often on the look out for others with a strong sense of self to follow. That’s what these disciples did.
If you are a Christian, you know how the story ends. Peter and the disciples tripped when Jesus got arrested at the garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:56) Peter denied Jesus three times as predicted, and all the disciples ran for their lives when the mob came for Jesus. Ultimately, belief in self led to trippin. It did. Faced with adversity, suffering, and danger, self trips. Self will betray you when the odds are stacked against it.
This is the problem with our world. Belief in self is the root of most of our problems. Some psychologists and philosophers argue that racism, prejudice, violence, greed, aggrandizement, corruption, and many ills in our societies, the root cause, is a strong belief in self. A paper published by social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues in 2003 found that students with higher self-esteem don’t perform better in school, and professionals with higher self-esteem don’t have stronger relationships with their coworkers. Even military cadets with higher self-esteem don’t turn out to be more effective leaders. They also found out that self-esteem was linked to some destructive behaviours, including violence and aggression, cheating and drug use. (Roy F. Baumeister, 2003)
It’s people who have a strong sense of self who cause the most harm to our world. Think Hitler, Idi Amin, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Maduro, Duterte, Boris Johnson, and even Donald Trump. Notice how a strong sense of self these people had/have and the damage they cause/d. Yet pop psychology increasingly tells us to believe in self.
Jesus prays for trippin’ people
In Luke 22:32, Jesus says something remarkable. He tells Peter, “Look I know you will trip, but listen, Peter, I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail and when you come back to your senses, your life’s example will give strength to your brothers.”
I have prayed for you. This should shock the system of many religious people. This is what Jesus said to Peter. “I know you will trip. I expect you to trip. I know you will fail me. I expect you to fail me. I know you more than you know yourself. You actually don’t know how weak and sinful you are. But hey, I have prayed for you.”
The Greek word for pray is deomai from deo which means to be in bonds, knit, tie, wind. This got me excited when I thought of what Jesus does here. Jesus tells Peter, “I know you will trip up, but I have bound myself to you, knit myself to you, wound myself like a rope with you. Imagine this picture of you being bound or knit to Jesus so tightly that you can’t be lost.”
What? This is bad news to religious, spiritual and moral people. How can Jesus expect us to trip and still pray for us? Aren’t we supposed not to trip at all? And yes, even if we trip because we are human, shouldn’t we repent and pull ourselves by our bootstraps? These sentiments are from people who believe in self. They believe, like Peter, they have what it takes not to trip. They are not aware of how sinful they are.
Not so with the gospel of grace. Not so with Jesus. To most of us who trip, this is very good news. This is the gospel. This is unique to the Christian faith. That Jesus expects us to trip and still prays for us. Wow. Other faiths say, when you trip, we should cast you aside. Secularism which claims not to be a belief has the same ethos. Ever heard of cancel, call out, outrage or woke culture?
Jesus knows you will commit adultery.
Jesus knows you will divorce.
Jesus knows you will steal.
Jesus knows you will lie.
Jesus knows you will disobey.
Jesus knows you will dishonour your parents.
Jesus knows you are racist.
Jesus knows you are weak.
Jesus knows you pray less.
Jesus knows you are unfaithful.
Jesus knows you will forsake him.
Jesus knows you will trip.
Imagine Jesus knows all these, expects you will trip, and yet has already (past tense – the aorist tense) prayed for your restoration and strengthening. I’ll not tell you to ‘go-ahead’ and trip and that Jesus will restore and strengthen you. I’ll tell you this though—you will trip and Jesus has already prayed for your restoration, strengthening and your life will inspire many.
Finally, remember that on the cross, Jesus bore the judgement for your trippin’. He did. On the cross, God judged Jesus as if he were you – as if Jesus had tripped. Your chastisement fell on Jesus, prophet Isaiah tells us. Why? So that you can have peace – shalom. Now God no longer holds your sin (trip) against you. He holds out grace to you. Wow.
That’s what grace looks like.
Roy F. Baumeister, J. D. (2003, 01 05). Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles? SAGE Journals, 4 (1), 1-44.